Sunday, June 19, 2005

COLUMN: Father's Day

When I first started this column, one of the cardinal vows I made to myself was that I'd never take it into cheezy territory. No sappy, feel-good, make-you-go-"awwwww" tales out of this journalist. No way, no how. Save it for Hallmark. Most of that touchy-feely sentimental stuff makes me want to puke.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, grab your barf bags. I need to break my rule just this once. I'll try to keep the schlockiness down to a minimum, but you're going to need to indulge me for a second. This weekend I need to pay honor to someone who's been an unsung hero in my life for far too long.

Put simply, my dad is the greatest of all dads. That's not opinion -- it's an actual fact. Many apologies to those of you who also might think the same of your father. Sadly, you're incorrect in your assessment. Your pop can only be #2 or lower. I called dibs.

I was sitting around thinking tonight. I'm 34 years old, and the greatest accomplishment I've been able to muster thus far in life is the ability to roll out of bed every morning, throw myself together, and make it to work within 5 minutes of when I'm supposed to be there. That's MY big resume.

When my DAD was 34, he was building the house that I grew up in. From scratch. His plans, his hands, his dream. I remember being 7 years old, watching my father put our home together, and thinking to myself, "Wow, when I get that moldy old, I'm gonna build a house, too." Well, here I am, old and moldy, and I can't even build a salad without covering myself in ranch dressing.

Yet this man put together our home from the ground up. Or should I say from the ground DOWN. See, my dad didn't just design and build any ol' home -- no, I grew up in an energy efficient, Earth-sheltered, "underground" home. My dad built us the cave of all caves. Virtually tornado-proof, completely earthquake-proof, heated and cooled by little more than the Sun and the earth itself. To the 7-year-old me, it was like living in a James Bond hideout.

He's our family's own personal superhero. The man can make ANYTHING with his hands. Beyond crafting much of the furniture in my apt., I've seen the guy make a pottery wheel, a miniature replica cannon, a fully working dulcimer for my mom when she mentioned it on a whim, it just goes on and on. I, meanwhile, can't craft a microwaved burrito without issues.

You'd think my dad was a professional carpenter or an architect. Nope. He's a railroader, one of the most thankless jobs on the planet. Home for sometimes as little as 8 hours at a stretch, then gone on a train for a day and a half. Yet, even with the insane schedule that he's known for 30+ years, I have NEVER witnessed the man put himself first.

Maybe my dad would've enjoyed a kid who liked to build things, too. Instead he got me -- Nerdy McWuss. But, darn it, lumber has SPLINTERS, and besides, it's usually found outside, and that's where the bees and snakes and bugs are. So I spent my childhood indoors glued to computers, video games, and TV -- but without a lick of disappointment from the old man. Besides, even Superman needs somebody to program the VCR.

I perpetually count myself among the lucky ones, as I've got parents who've stayed together and are as hopelessly in love with each other as the day they met. My folks brought me up on the straight and narrow -- but with kindness and support instead of discipline or fear. Everything I am today starts and stops with them.

Recently, I've gotten to see my dad play a different kind of superhero. For the past 2 weeks, my mom's been in and out of the hospital with what the doctors refer to as "thunderclap migraines." Don't worry - she's going to be fine. The point is, my father took two weeks off work to become the family rock. When you're hanging out with someone suffering from headaches, you've got to be prepared to spend a lot of time in a very dark, very quiet room. My father hasn't left my mom's side for the past 2 weeks, with little to do but sit, stare, sleep, and call me with status reports every other hour.

Watching all this made me realize that I'm still the 7 year old wanting to be just like my dad when I grow up. I might not be able to build my own house, but if I can one day fill a home with the kind of love and happiness that my parents have given me all these years, I'll be just fine.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

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